The Select | Chapter 4 of 7

Author: F. Paul Wilson | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1591 Views | Add a Review

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F. Paul Wilson

 

© 1993 by F. Paul Wilson

 

 

 

CHRISTMAS BREAK

 

<excerpt>

 

THE INGRAHAM COLLEGE OF MEDICINE

Laurel Hills, MD

Known as the "24 karat medical school," the Ingraham (pronounced "ING gram") College of Medicine has become one of the most respected and prestigious institutes in the nation. Nestled in the wooded hills of Frederick County, Maryland, less than an hour's drive from both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., it has built its teaching staff by culling the great names from all the medical specialties. The Ingraham faculty is considered without peer.

The same can be said of its student body. Every December, the nation's highest scorers on the MCAT are invited to The Ingraham (as it is known) to take a special entrance exam. It is a highly coveted invitation: The Ingraham is entirely subsidized by the Kleederman Foundation—its students pay no tuition, no book or lab fees, and receive free room and board. (A strict condition of acceptance is that you must live on The Ingraham campus the entire four years). But academic excellence is only part of The Ingraham's requirements. The Admissions Office stresses that it is looking for "well rounded individuals with something extra, who will be committed to the practice of medicine in a primary care setting, especially in areas where it is needed most." Academic brilliance is, of course, an important requirement, but they state The Ingraham is not looking to turn out academic physicians who will spend their careers hunched over microscopes and test tubes. The ideal candidates for are pre med students who were not only top in their class academically, but who were also class officers or active in campus affairs.

The Ingraham alumni are considered the cream of the crop. Without exception, its fifty annual graduates are offered the medical world's most highly regarded residencies. Yet an extraordinary number of alumni eschew the high paying subspecialties for primary care and can be found practicing in the nation's poorer areas, especially the inner cities. They have earned The Ingraham an unequaled reputation for academic excellence and social commitment.

from AMERICAN MEDICAL SCHOOLS IN PERSPECTIVE

by Emmett Fenton (Bobbs Merrill, 1991)

(reprinted by permission)

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

"Quinn! Quinn, come on!"

Quinn Cleary heard the voice but continued to stare out over the cluster of buildings below her and at the surrounding fall dappled hills beyond. From here on the hilltop, the high point on campus, she'd been told she could see three states: Maryland, of course; West Virginia to her right, and Virginia due south, straight ahead.

And down the gentle slope beneath her feet, perhaps a dozen yard below, sat the circle of beige brick and stone buildings— the classrooms, the dorm, the administration and faculty offices, all clustered around the central pond— that made up The Ingraham.

A touch on her arm. She turned. Matt Crawford stood there, dark curly hair, deeply tanned skin, dark eyes looking at her curiously.

"Are you in a trance or something?"

"No. But isn't it beautiful?" She looked again at the manicured sloping lawns, sculpted out of the surrounding wooded acres. "Isn't it almost too good to be true?"

"Yeah, it's great." He gripped her elbow gently. "Come on. We don't want to get too far behind."

Reluctantly, Quinn let herself be turned away from the grand view. Her long legs easily matched Matt's strides as they hurried to catch up with the other hopefuls following Mr. Verran on the campus tour. She was tall and slender—too slender, she thought whenever she'd catch a look at herself in a full length mirror. Almost boyish looking with her short red blond hair and her mostly straight up and down body. She'd look at herself morosely and think that the only rounded things on her body were all above the shoulders: a round Irish face with clear pale skin and high colored cheeks, a round, full lipped mouth, and big round blue eyes. She'd never liked her face. A dopey Campbell Soup Kid face. She'd especially disliked her lips, had always thought they were too fat. She'd looked at her face as a teenager and all she'd seen were those lips. But now her lips were the in thing. Full lips were all the rage. Movie stars were getting their lips injected with silicone to get them to look like the lips Quinn had been born with and had always hated.

Who could figure fashion? Which was why Quinn was rarely in fashion, and when so, purely by accident. She favored loose and comfortable in her slacks, blouses, and sweaters. No tight jeans or stretch pants, and good God, no lycra bicycle pants. She'd look like a spray painted Olive Oyl. She glanced down at her slacks and her sweater. A little behind the times, perhaps, a bit generous in the cut, but good quality, bought on sale.

Most people wear baggy clothing to hide bulges, she thought. I'm hiding the lack of them.

But Quinn knew neither looks, body type, nor fashion sense would make a difference when she and the others sat for the entrance exam tomorrow morning. What would count then was what was between the ears. And she was pretty sure she had good stuff between her ears.

But was it the right stuff? Was it the stuff The Ingraham College of Medicine wanted from its students?

They've got to take me, Quinn thought. They've just got to.

The Ingraham was like a dream waiting to come true.

Medicine was Quinn's dream—had been since she'd been old enough to dream—and the Ingraham was the only place that could make that dream come true, the only medical school she could afford.

Suddenly she heard running footsteps behind her.

"Hey, Matt! Wait up."

She turned and saw a vaguely familiar looking guy trotting up the walk from the main campus.

"Timmy!" Matt said, grinning as he held out his hand. "I thought you weren't going to make it."

"Almost didn't," he said. "Got a late start from A.C."

"Atlantic City?" Matt said. "What were you—? Oh, no. You didn't."

Now the newcomer was grinning. "Pass up some easy cash? How could I?"

Matt shook his head in wonder. "You're nuts, Timmy. Completely nuts." He turned to Quinn. "You remember my roomie Tim Brown, don't you, Quinn?"

Where Matt was average height, dark, and broad shouldered, Tim was a fair, lanky six footer with sandy brown hair and impenetrable, wire rimmed, aviator style dark glasses.

Quinn remembered meeting Tim along with some of Matt's other friends at Dartmouth last year.

"I think so. Green Key Weekend, right?"

Tim lifted his shades and looked at her. His blue eyes were bloodshot.

"If you guys say so. I don't remember much from that weekend." He extended his hand. "Nice to meet you again, Quinn. Is that your first name or your last?"

His hand was cool and dry as Quinn briefly clasped it.

"My last name's Cleary."

"Quinn Cleary." Tim dropped the shades back over his eyes. "That has a nice sound to it."

Quinn felt the sudden warmth in her cheeks and knew their already high color was climbing higher.

"My folks thought so."

She cursed again her tendency to blush at the drop of a hat, even at a throw away compliment like Tim's. She didn't want him to get the idea that she was attracted to him or anything like that. She might be unattached, but no way was she attracted to Tim Brown. She didn't know him personally, but what she'd heard from Matt during the years those two had roomed together at Dartmouth was more than enough.

Timmy Brown: wild man.

From all accounts he probably had a gambling problem on top of a drinking problem.

But what was he doing here at The Ingraham? He couldn't have been invited to sit for the entrance exam. They only took the MCAT's top scorers. Hadn't Matt told her Tim was a business or economics major? How... ?

She'd worry about that later. No, she wouldn't. She wouldn't worry about it at all. It was none of her business. Her business now was the tour. They were finishing up at the Science Center. So far the tour had been a fantasy. The dorm rooms were like luxury hotel suites; the labs were state of the art; the lecture halls were equipped with the very latest in A V technology. And now they were about to tour the major medical research facility right on campus. This was a medical Disney World.

But Matt and Tim were hanging back, talking and laughing at some story Tim was telling about the casino he'd been thrown out of last night. They'd last seen each other only days ago yet they were acting like two old war buddies who'd been reunited after years of separation.

Quinn felt a twinge of jealousy. Matt was her friend, had been forever. Their mothers had gone to high school together. She and Matt had fumbled through an attempt at something more than friendship when they were both sixteen, but once they put that behind them, they'd continued on like brother and sister. Or better yet, because there was no hint of sibling rivalry, like close cousins, with Matt coming from the rich wing of the family tree, and Quinn from the poor.

She sighed and told herself to get real. Why was she suddenly feeling possessive about Matt? There had to be things—lots of things—that he shared with Tim that he couldn't share with her.

"Listen," she told them. "I want to catch this end of the tour. I'll meet you later."

She caught up with the rest of the hopefuls. There were about 50 in the group—another fifty had taken the tour this morning—all of them going for their interviews this afternoon and sitting for the test tomorrow. And this was only one of a number of groups taking the test this week. An awful lot of applicants. Quinn had known there would be fierce competition for each seat in next year's class, but this was a bit daunting. The Ingraham took only fifty a year.

I'll make it, she told herself. I have to.

She joined the lead section, all following close behind The Ingraham's chief of security, Louis Verran.

Mr. Verran was a short, dark, balding, stubby man with what looked to be five o'clock shadow even though it was only early afternoon. He could have been some sort of middle manager at a bindery or the like. Smoking was not allowed anywhere on The Ingraham campus, he'd told them at the outset, and one of the duties of his office was the strict enforcement of that rule, yet that didn't stop him from carrying an unlit cigar everywhere. He chewed on it once in a while but generally used it as a pointer.

Quinn could not see a cigar without thinking of home—or rather home as it used to be. Her family's Connecticut farm had once grown the tobacco that wrapped cigars like Mr. Verran's, but not any more.

She returned her attention to Mr. Verran, whose body apparently ran on a different thermostat from everybody else's. Despite the chill December wind, he was dressed in a short sleeve white shirt, no jacket, and seemed perfectly comfortable. Maybe the extra pounds kept him insulated. He was overweight, but brawny rather than blubbery—except for his face and neck. Rolls of fat rode his open collar, pushing up on his jowls and cheeks. He reminded Quinn of a shar pei.

"The Campus Security Office is also located in the Science Center," Mr. Verran said as they passed the five story building and their way to the hospital. He had a whiny voice for such a burly looking man. "On the second floor."

Quinn had noticed security cameras mounted on the walls of all the campus buildings; the Science Center was no exception. Apparently she wasn't the only one who'd noticed.

"Is security a problem here?" someone asked. "Has there been trouble?"

"No, and there never will be. Not with me in charge," he said, flashing a lopsided grin. "It's my job to make sure that anybody who's on this campus belongs here, and to keep out anyone who doesn't. We never lock the labs, libraries, or study halls. They're available to students around the clock. It's my guarantee that as a student here you'll be able to walk anywhere on this campus at any hour of the day or night and not give a second thought to your personal safety. You'll have other things to worry about." Another grin here. "Like your grades."

Nervous laughter from the Ingraham hopefuls.

Quinn had noticed that the group was pretty ethnically balanced. There'd never been many blacks in the rural area where she'd grown up, but she'd become accustomed to black faces everywhere at U. Conn. There were plenty here, along with some Hispanics and Orientals. The Ingraham seemed color blind but not sex blind: there were very few woment in the group.

Mr. Verran led them past a guardhouse that watched over a gate in the ten foot high fence that ran around the campus.

"It's all public access beyond this point," he said, gesturing to the looming eight story medical center and its multi level parking lots, all gleaming white in contrast to the masses of beige brick behind them, "but not the campus. You need special ID to get on campus."

He led them on a quick tour of the first floor of the medical center, reeling off facts about the place as they trooped down the wide center corridor: 520 beds, 210 physicians on staff representing every specialty and subspecialty, drawing patients from Washington, DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and of course, Maryland. He whisked them past the labs—hematology, special chemistry, virology, parasitology, toxicology, cytology, and on and on—and past the radiology department with its array of every imaging device known to man, and skirted the bustling emergency room.

Quinn didn't understand much of what she was shown—she knew it would take years of medical school before she would begin to understand—but she'd learned enough from her pre med courses and her outside reading to know that she had entered a tertiary medical center working on the cutting edge of medical technology.

As they were leaving the center, Quinn heard the sound of an approaching aircraft. She turned with the rest to see a MedEvac helicopter settling on the helipad. She watched breathlessly as a group in whites ran from the hospital and removed a patient on a stretcher.

"How great is this!" someone murmured behind her. Quinn could only nod agreement.

They've got to take me, she thought. I've got to go here.

Mr. Verran dragged them away from the medical complex and back through the gate to the campus. At the entrance to the Science Center, a motion detector opened the double sliding glass doors for the group.

"All right," he said once they were clustered in the lobby. "Everybody wait here while I make sure they're ready for us upstairs."

Quinn watched him walk to the security desk, centered in the lobby like an island in a stream, and speak to the two blue uniformed security guards stationed there. It occurred to her that they looked fairly young and fit, not like the dumpy ex cops who passed as a security force at the U. Conn campus where she'd spent the past three and a half years.

She wondered why they needed this sort of security—the ten foot high cyclone perimeter fence, the guard posts at all the gates. She could see it in an inner city—downtown Baltimore or D.C. maybe—but out here in the woods?

Her musings were interrupted by Mr. Verran's return.

"Okay," he said, clapping his hands and rubbing them together. "They're ready for us. Take the elevators and we'll reassemble on the third floor."

 

 

 

Quinn followed the rest of the tour in a state of rapture. The Ingraham's five story hilltop complex was a temple to the art and science of medical research. The third floor was actually a miniature pharmaceutical plant, producing experimental compounds for trials in the treatment of lupus and cancer and AIDS.

They've got to take me, she thought again. I've got to go here.

The fourth floor was a vivarium housing the center's experimental animals. The pungent odor of its inhabitants filled the air. The stacked cages full of doomed rats and mice didn't bother her. As a farm girl she'd learned early on not to get attached to the livestock. But the array of whining dogs, meowing cats, and wide eyed monkeys made her acutely uncomfortable. She was glad to move up to the top floor.

"This is Dr. Alston," Mr. Verran said when they reached the fifth floor. He presented a tall, sallow, gaunt, balding, fiftyish man in a lab coat. He had watery hazel eyes,slightly yellowed teeth, and a string tie. "He's not only Director of Medical Education at The Ingraham, but one of the country's foremost dermatological pathologists." He glanced at Dr. Alston. "Did I say that right?"

Dr. Alston smiled and nodded tolerantly.

"Looks like Uncle Creepy," a voice whispered near her ear.

Quinn glanced around and saw Tim Brown standing close behind her. He was still wearing his dark aviator glasses. Indoors. Maybe he wanted to hide his bloodshot eyes.

"I'm going to place you in his hands for the final leg of the tour," Mr. Verran was saying. "The research they're doing up here is so secret even I don't know what's going on."

Dr. Alston stepped forward. His smile toward the security chief was condescending.

"Mr. Verran has a tendency to exaggerate. However, we do try to keep a lid on the data from the fifth floor. Our projects here have commercial applications and we wish to protect the patents. Any profits from those applications will, of course, be plowed back into more research and to maintain funding of the school and the medical center. Follow me, please."

As they trooped after him down the wide hallway, he continued speaking over his shoulder. "I can't show you much, I'm afraid. My own project is in the human trials stage and we must respect the subjects' privacy. But I can tell you that I'm working with a semisynthetic, rejection proof skin graft which I hope, once perfected, will completely change the lives of burn victims all over the world. But perhaps... there he is now."

Down the hall ahead of them, someone in a labcoat stepped into the hallway.

"Oh, Walter. Just a moment, please."

The other man turned. He was older, a shorter, and plumper than Dr. Alston. He sported an unruly mane of white hair and bright blue eyes.

"Oh, great," Tim whispered again. "Here's Cousin Eerie."

Quinn turned and gave him a hard look that told him to knock it off.

The man called Walter looked up at Dr. Alston over the tops of his reading glasses, then at the crowd of applicants. He smiled absently.

"Oh, my. Another tour."

"Yes, Walter. Walk us through your section, won't you?"

The shorter man shrugged. "Very well, Arthur. As long as you do the talking."

"This is Dr. Walter Emerson," Dr. Alston announced. "Very possibly the world's top expert in neuropharmacology."

"Really, Arthur—"

Dr. Alston half turned and began moving his shorter, heavier companion down the hall. The group followed, Quinn on the left end of the leading phalanx.

"Dr. Emerson is too modest to tell you so himself, but the work he is doing with a new anesthetic compound is absolutely astounding. He hasn't named it yet, but it does have a code number: 9574. If our animal studies translate to the human nervous system, 9574 will offer total body anesthesia and selective skeletal muscle paralysis. I can't say more than that, but if we're successful, 9574 will revolutionize operative anesthesia."

The tile wall to Quinn's left became plate glass and she stopped, staring.

A room beyond the glass, a ward, filled with hospital beds. And in those beds, pure white bodies. Quinn blinked. No, that wasn't pale skin, it was gauze. The bodies were gauze wrapped from head to toe. Blue, green, red, and yellow patches on the gauze. They didn't move. Seven beds, seven bodies, and not a sign of life. They looked dead.

But they had to be alive. Nurses—gloved, gowned, masked—glided among them like wraiths. There were IVs and feeding tubes running into the bodies, and catheters trailing out from under the sheets down to transparent bedside collection bags filled with clear golden fluid.

She felt someone bump against her back, and knew it was Tim.

"Jesus," he said. His voice was hoarse.

What? No crack about mummies? She glanced at his face, saw his awed expression, watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. He seemed genuinely moved.

Quinn stared again into the ward and was startled to see a bed directly before her on the other side of the window. The body... patient... person in the bed was wrapped head to toe in thick white gauze. Only the bridge of the nose and a pair of dull, rheumy, blue eyes remained uncovered. Those eyes were staring up at Quinn. They searched her face as if seeking something there. The patient looked vaguely male... the shoulders were broad, the chest flat.

"What... who... ?" Quinn said.

The entire tour had stopped and gravitated toward the window, crowding behind Quinn.

"Oh, dear. Oh, my." It was Dr. Emerson, squeezing toward the front. He looked flustered. "This is Ward C. Dr. Alston's ward. The curtain should have been drawn on this window. Not that there's anything confidential going on, but for the sake of these patients."

"Wh what happened to them?" Quinn said.

"Burns," Dr. Emerson replied, his voice soft as he stared through the window at Quinn's side. "Third degree burns over eighty or ninety percent of their bodies. Not fresh burns. They'd be in hyperbaric chambers at our burn center in the hospital if they were. No, these are burn center survivors. They're alive but so covered with stiff, thick scar tissue that they can barely move. Some of them are brain damaged, all of them are in constant misery." He sighed. "Arthur is their last hope."

Quinn could not take her eyes off the patient before her. Her gaze seemed to be locked into his. His eyes seemed to be trying to tell her something.

"Their beds are rotated by the outer windows and by this hallway window," Dr. Emerson was saying. "They can't move. Very few of them can even speak. It has to be boring beyond belief to spend all day staring at the ceiling. So they're moved around, to let them see the outdoors, let them watch the hustle and bustle of the hallway here. It stimulates them. The nurses have been trained to speak to them constantly. Even if they're not sure their words are being heard or understood, they're communicating continually with these patients."

Communicating... that was what the blue eyes of the patient before Quinn seemed to be trying to do. They were reaching out to her. They narrowed with the effort. Quinn sensed a silent desperation there.

The patient began to move. Just a little. Twisting, writhing, ever so slightly.

"Dr. Emerson," Quinn said, pointing through the window. "Is something wrong?"

Dr. Emerson had turned away. He looked through the glass again.

"Oh, dear. He seems to be in pain."

He moved away and spoke through the door to a nurse in the ward. Then he returned to Quinn's side.

"He'll get some relief now."

Quinn saw a nurse approach the bed with a syringe. She poked the end of the needle into the injection port on the Y adaptor in the IV line and depressed the plunger.

"Will he be all right?"

"As right as anyone can be with that amount of skin damage," Dr. Emerson said. Gently he took her arm. "Come, my dear. These patients and their pain are not on display. Don't rob them of what little dignity and privacy they have left."

As Quinn allowed herself to be drawn away, she glanced back and thought she saw tears in the patient's eyes, and could have sworn she saw his chest heave with a single sob before the inner curtain was drawn across the window.

The remainder of the tour was a blur. All she saw were those eyes, those pain wracked, plaintive blue eyes staring at her, calling to her from within their gauze cocoon.

She knew she had to get back to that patient. Someday, some way, she would. Easing pain, healing the unhealable. That was what it was all about. That was what The Ingraham was all about.

They've got to take me, Quinn thought for the hundredth time today. They've just got to.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

Matt stared at the board on the wall of the cafeteria.

 

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

 

"Jesus," Tim said over his shoulder. "This place cranks out its share of dedicated docs, doesn't it."

Matt read down the list. In any urban area of any size across the country, Ingraham graduates manned inner-city clinics. And never too far away was a Kleederman-owned medical center or nursing home.

"That it does," Matt said, then lowered his voice to a Ted-Baxterish baritone. "Wherever the health of America is in need, the Ingraham graduate is ready to serve."

"So where are the real medical students?" Tim said as they turned and joined Quinn at a small table in a corner of the cafeteria.

Cafeteria? Matt thought. To call this a cafeteria was like calling the 21 Club an Automat.

Matt looked around at the white tables of varying shapes and sizes, scattershot occupied by hopefuls, but no medical students. The Ingraham's cafeteria was a large, open, two-story affair. You could enter from the attached classroom building, in which case you had to walk down a long, curved stairway, or you could enter directly onto the floor from the grounds outside. The three outer walls were all glass—twenty-foot-high panes flanked with white curtains, offering a panoramic view of the sky and the wooded hills rolling away to the north. No expense had been spared in outfitting The Ingraham's facilities, even the cafeteria. And the food...

They sipped Diet Pepsi or Mountain Dew as they picked from a communal plate of french fries in the center of the table. Not ordinary french fries. These were curly-cue fries, perfectly crisp outside, soft and hot inside, salted with some sort of crimson seasoning, tangy and peppery. A wedge of camembert had been placed on the side. Matt had always figured caf food was caf food everywhere. Not so at The Ingraham.

"They're home for Christmas break," Matt said. "Like we should be."

"Right," Tim said, his eyes unreadable behind his shades. "But we want to go to The Ingraham so bad we give up part of our vacation to come here and take their test. Are we all that desperate?"

Matt glanced at Quinn and could almost read her mind. The Ingraham was her only chance. His family could send him to any med school that accepted him. His father could probably take it out of petty cash. Tim's family could help him out with the tuition and he'd get the rest. Tim was resourceful that way. But Quinn's family, they were just getting by.

"I heard there was a group like this on Monday and another coming in Friday," Matt said. "That's a lot of applicants for fifty places."

Matt saw Quinn flinch and wanted to kick himself. He wished he knew some back-door way to get her in, but people said The Ingraham was influence proof. Only the best and the brightest. Well, Quinn certainly qualified there. He'd never known anyone who deserved more to be a doctor, who was more right for medicine. She was born for it. But she looked so scared. He could all but see the anticipation of rejection in her eyes. He wanted to tell her it would be okay, it would all work out. But he didn't know that.

Tim drained his Pepsi and looked around.

"They ought to serve draft beer here. Might liven up the place."

Uh-oh, Matt thought. Tim's getting bored.

And when he got bored he got strange. He saw Quinn staring at Tim, probably wondering if he was for real. The answer was yes — and no. Matt tried to change the subject.

"How'd you do in A.C. last night?"

"About a thousand."

"Blackjack?"

"That's my game."

Quinn's eyes were wide. "A thousand dollars? In one night? Just like that?"

Matt wondered how many weeks she'd slaved at her two waitressing jobs during the summer to earn a thousand.

"Yeah," Tim said, "but I can't do that too often or else my name'll get around and they'll ban me." He looked around again. "There's got to be some beer here."

"It's a medical school cafeteria," Quinn told him. Matt detected a hint of annoyance creeping into her voice. "There's no beer here."

Tim smiled. "Wanna bet?"

"Are you serious?"

"Of course I'm serious. Ten bucks says I can get us some beer."

"Real beer—not root beer?"

"Real beer. And I'll have it before the interviews start."

"Okay," she said finally. "Ten—"

Matt knew it was time to step in. He couldn't let her throw away ten bucks. He laid a hand on her arm.

"Uh-uh, Quinn."

"What? Why not?"

"Never bet against Tim."

"But—"

"Never." He patted her arm. "Trust me on this one. I spent years learning that lesson—the hard way."

Quinn sat back and crossed her arms across her chest. Matt knew what she was thinking: She didn't have ten bucks to throw away but this seemed like such a sure thing. And besides, she wanted to take of the wind out of Mr. cocksure Timothy Brown's sails.

"Oh, well," Tim said, rising. "Looks like I'll have to get it anyway. It would appear my integrity is at stake." He looked at Quinn. "I suppose you want a light of some kind?"

"I don't want any kind," she said. "I've got my interview in twenty minutes."

He grinned. "I'd better get you a couple. You're awfully uptight. You'll do better if you're relaxed."

As Tim wandered away toward the kitchen, Quinn turned to him, eyes blazing.

"Do you actually live with him?"

Matt tried but couldn't hide his laughter.

"What's so funny?"

"You!" Matt said, gasping. "You should have seen your face when he said you were uptight."

"I am uptight, Matt. This means the world to me. You know that."

Matt sobered immediately. He reached over and put a hand over hers, gave it a squeeze. He loved the feel of her skin. There were times—and this was one of them—when he wished they were more than just friends.

"Yeah, I do know. And I'm pulling for you. If this place is half as discerning as it's supposed to be, you're in, no sweat."

She seemed to take heart from that. Good. He wanted her to believe that this time something would go her way.

"Thanks," she said. "But what about Tim? I thought you told me your roomie was a business major or something. I can't believe he wants to be a doctor."

"I don't know if he really does. He's an economics major but he squeezed in the required science courses for med school last year to give him the option in case he wanted it. I guess he decided he wanted it."

"Great!" she said, leaning back. "I spend three and a half years breaking my back as a pre-med bio major so I can nail the MCATs; he 'squeezes in' a few science courses and gets invited to sit for The Ingraham's. How does that happen?"

Matt grinned. This was familiar territory for him.

"Tim's not like the rest of us mortals. He has an eidetic memory. Never forgets a thing. That's how he wins at blackjack — remembers every card that's been played."

"All fine and good but that's not enough to—"

"Plus he has a keen analytical mind. You remember calculus—all the binary equations you had to memorize? Tim never bothered. He'd go into the test and figure them out."

Quinn glanced toward the kitchen door where Tim was in deep conversation with a heavy-set black man in a white apron, then turned back to Matt.

"You could hate a guy like that."

Matt sighed. "Sometimes I do. Not easy to be friends with a guy who can ace every test without breaking a sweat."

"You're no slouch in the grade-point department yourself."

"I've done all right." Matt had calculated that by this semester's end his overall GPA at Dartmouth would be 3.75. "But I've had to crunch for those grades. Yet here's Tim who spends his time gambling, drinking, and polishing his car, whose idea of studying is pulling one all-nighter before an exam, and he's going to graduate Phi Beta Kappa. If he weren't such a nice guy—"

"Nice guy?" Quinn said, her voice rising half an octave. "Matt, he's got to be one of the most irresponsible, self-centered, inconsiderate, egotistical—"

"He's just testing you," Matt said. "It's a game he plays, but only with people he likes. Likes to see how far he can push them, how much they can take. Once he finds out, he backs off. He's pushing you, Quinn—gently. He must like you."

He saw her cheeks begin to redden and hid a smile. She blushed so easily.

"That kind of like I can do without."

"Go with it. Once you get to know him he's a lot of fun. And believe me, he—" Matt glanced up. "Speak of the devil, here he comes now."

Tim glided up and set three 16-ounce paper cups on the table.

"Rolling Rock for the men, and—" he pushed one of the cups toward Quinn "—a Coors Light for the pretty lady."

Quinn glanced down at the white foam riding an inch below the rim, sniffed—

"How on earth—?"

"Nothing to it, my dear. I used to work in a kitchen. The help always has a corner of one of the coolers reserved for their own private stock, three cans of which these folks were more than happy to part with for a mere ten dollars." He lifted his cup. "Cheers."

"No, thanks," Quinn said. She pushed hers across toward Tim. "But please don't let this go to waste. As Matt said, there's a lot of people vying for The Ingraham's fifty places. I need all the edge I can get. Do drink up." Quinn rose from her seat. "Excuse me. I've got my interview."

Matt was startled—this wasn't the Quinn he knew—but as she turned to leave, she winked and gave him a little smile. Matt relaxed. So that was it. Tim had started pushing Quinn, so Quinn was pushing right back.

Good for her.

Matt glanced at Tim and saw that he was staring after Quinn. He turned to Matt and grinned.

"I like her. Where'd you find her and are there any more like her where she came from?"

"Known her since we were toddlers and she's one of a kind. But not your kind."

Tim's eyebrows rose above the frame of his aviator shades. "Oh, really? You staking out that territory for yourself? Because if you are, just say the word and I'll—"

"Nah," Matt said. "We've known each other too long and too well to be anything more than good friends." At least that's the way Quinn sees it, he thought.

"Good," Tim said, watching her retreating figure. "Because I think I like being around her."

Matt wasn't sure how he felt about that, but Quinn was quite capable of taking care of herself. She had her sights set and wouldn't let Tim Brown or him or anyone distract her from becoming a doctor.

He watched the door close behind her and silently wished her well on her interview. She'd need all the help she could get. The Ingraham was known—and widely criticized—for peopling its student body with mostly males. He hoped she got somebody with enough perception to recognize what a prize The Ingraham would have in Quinn Cleary.

 

 

 

Dr. Walter Emerson rubbed his eyes and waited for the next applicant to arrive. These interviews were tiring but a necessary evil. Current wisdom ran that you could tell only so much from test scores and application data. You had to meet these people face to face, see how they presented themselves, and look them in the eye to decide whether they would make the kind of doctor worthy of the enormous amount of time and treasure invested in each one of them, who'd go out into the world and practice front-line medicine.

But it pained him to know that so few of the hopeful, eager faces he'd seen this week were going to be asked to return to The Ingraham in September.

He yawned. He always got sleepy this time of the afternoon. He hoped didn't doze off during the next interview.

A soft knock.

"Come in."

He immediately recognized the slim, strawberry blonde who entered as the girl he'd seen on Fifth Science this afternoon. He remembered her staring at Ward C through the window, the high color in her cheeks, the wide blue eyes so filled with wonder and empathy. He glanced down at her file: Quinn Cleary, 21, Connecticut, full academic scholarship to the University of Connecticut, pre-med Biology major; president of the Biology club, stringer for the school paper; excellent GPA, high MCATs. A fine catch for any medical school. Too bad she was lacking a critical factor: a Y chromosome.

Walter had gone around and around with the board for years on this thing they had for males. Sure, twenty years ago when The Ingraham first opened its doors, males ran American medicine. But things were changing. Hell, things had already changed. Women were gaining now, and their influence would continue to grow. If The Ingraham was to maintain its status as a premier training center, the Foundation's board would have to alter its antiquated sex preference.

So far the board had paid him a little lip service, but no new admissions directives had been issued.

Well, he'd see what he could do for this young thing. For some reason he could not quite fathom, Walter felt attached to her. Maybe he'd seen something of his old self in this youngster as she'd looked at those patients, something in her eyes, the desire to do something for them, the need to act.

And then an epiphany: his daughter. This girl reminded him of Clarice. Clarice was twenty-five in Walter's mind. Would always be twenty-five. That was when a drunk had run a stop sign and brought her life and her mother's to a fiery end. A void had opened in him then. He still carried it with him every minute.

"So, Miss Quinn Cleary," he said after she'd seated herself across from him. He smiled to allay the tension he sensed in her. "Let me ask you the question I must ask, the question you know you're going to be asked, and get that one out of the way: Why do you wish to become a doctor?"

"Because I..."

Her voice trailed off. She sat there with a tortured expression, twisting her hands together.

"Is something wrong?" he said.

"I... I had a whole speech prepared and now I can't remember a word of it."

"Good. I've been listening to speeches all afternoon. Let's deviate from the prepared text, as the politicians say, and get down to the real you. Why a doctor?"

"Because I can't remember ever wanting to be anything else."

"That doesn't answer the question."

"Well... because I know I can do it, and do it well. I can be the best damn doctor you've ever seen."

Walter couldn't help but believe her.

"Now we're getting somewhere. Because you can do it and do it well... I haven't heard that one in a long time. I hear a lot of altruistic jimmer-jammer but competence is the bottom line, isn't it. A doctor who can't get the job done is no doctor at all. But what about helping people, bettering the lot of your fellow man?"

Walter had heard that ad nauseam this week... and last year... and the year before...

Quinn Cleary shrugged. She seemed to be relaxing.

"That's important, I guess."

"You guess?"

"Well, benefiting mankind is great, but that's not what's driving me. I mean, you don't spend four years in pre-med, four years in medical school, then two, three, maybe five more years in a residency just to 'help' people. Plenty of people need help right now, today, this minute. If helping people is all you care about, why put it off for ten years? Join the Peace Corps or go work in a mission feeding the homeless."

How refreshing she was. Walter felt his afternoon lethargy slipping away.

"You're not an altruist, then, I take it?"

"I care a lot about people—sometimes too much, I think— but there's got to be more to becoming a doctor than that."

"Oh, yes," Walter said, allowing a smile. "How could we forget? There's the status, the respect, and maybe most important, the money."

The girl returned his smile. "Money... that would be a new experience. But at the risk of sounding holier than thou, when I visualize myself as a doctor, it's not driving a Mercedes, it's in a hospital or an examining room. Doing it—doing the job, and doing it right. That's what matters."

Again, Walter found himself believing her. But he made himself sound dubious. "Does it really now?"

"Yes," she said, her cheeks coloring. "And if that sounds corny or phony, I'm sorry, but that's the way I feel."

Spunky too. Walter decided he was going to do his damnedest to get this young lady into The Ingraham.

But he could do only so much. A lot—everything, one might say—depended on the test tomorrow. She'd have to correctly answer those special questions. He couldn't help her with those. Nobody could.

 

 

MONITORING

 

Louis Verran sat at the main console in the monitoring room in the basement of the Science Center and struck a match. Elliot and Kurt weren't due in for another thirty minutes, so he had the place to himself. He held the flame to the tip of his panatella and puffed. This was his domain, the only place on the whole goddamn campus where he made the rules, and he did not have one against smoking here. Never would. He savored the coolness of the early puffs, even inhaled a little.

Nothing in the world like an after-dinner cigar. All he needed was a snifter of VSOP to feel one hundred percent mellow. But that would have to wait. No booze while he was on the job. His rule.

He scanned the readouts, checking to make sure the pick-ups were tracking their target data.

The dorm was hopping. The hopefuls had all been fed—nicely stuffed on chicken francaise and all the trimmings—and escorted to their rooms. Now time for them to settle in, settle down, and go beddie-bye by lights out at 11:00.

Everything was operative. One hundred and four sets of readouts, one for every room in the V-shaped dorm's two wings. Half of them were occupied by hopefuls tonight. A pair in each of those rooms. One hundred nervous, twitchy bodies in all.

He decided to run some random checks. He activated the audio in 241. A couple of girls in that one...

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

"...think this could be some sort of test too?"

It was the third time Trish had asked that since dinner—which Quinn was still marveling at. She glanced over at where her roommate for the night sat with an MCAT review course manual open on her lap. Trish was pudgy, with long frizzy hair and mild acne. The seams of her jeans, made for someone two sizes smaller, were stretched almost to the breaking point over her thighs.

"I don't know what you mean."

Trish rolled her eyes and sighed as if it were all so obvious.

"This." She gestured around her. "This room. Spending the night in the med students' rooms. They could be testing us to see how well we respect their rules. What do you think?"

A handsome room—a two-room suite, actually. Cedar paneled walls, a thick rug on the floor, and their own cheerfully tiled bathroom. The outer room had the beds and a view of the woods; the elaborate headboards looked like mahogany and were built into the walls, with drawers and bookshelves and compartments of various sizes; two huge closets also built in. The inner half was a sitting room with two built-in desks that also seemed like mahogany, plus a neetly upholstered, Laura Ashley-looking couch, a round table, and two comfy chairs. A far cry from the cinderblock box she called home at U. Conn.

"Isn't this the most incredible dorm room you've ever seen?" Quinn said.

"Got to be. Do you think it's true about the daily maid service?"

"That's what I've heard."

"But do you think they're testing us by putting us in here?"

"Could be. They certainly have enough rules around here."

The Ingraham, she'd heard, had a reputation of exerting an unusual amount of control over its students, and that seemed to stretch to its applicants as well. All applicants—and they reminded you endlessly that you'd been invited to be an applicant—had to attend the full orientation and spend the night prior to the test in The Ingraham's dorm.

As soon as she'd arrived, Quinn had been handed an orientation booklet which had laid down the rules in no uncertain terms. And in bold type had been the requirement of spending the night here. As if to say, if you don't stay the night, don't bother showing up for the test. Why, Quinn wondered, were they so adamant about that?

And these dorm rooms, all that stuff about not opening any drawers or closets, respecting the residents' belongings and privacy, as if she had any intention of prying into people's drawers.

Quinn was grateful for the free room and board. But why were they so strident?

"Well, the whole thing beats me," Trish said, "but I'm going to keep my hands off everything in here. Not even going to use the desk lamp."

"Maybe we shouldn't even get in the beds," Quinn teased in a near whisper. "Maybe we should just leave the spreads pulled up and sleep on top."

"You think really so?"

"Or maybe should sleep on the floor," Quinn continued, wondering when Trish would catch on. "That way we won't wrinkle the spreads."

"Oh, I don't..." Finally she caught it. She smiled. "You're putting me on, aren't you! I must sound a little nuts, huh?"

"No. Just nervous. Like me."

"You too? You don't show it."

Next to Trish anyone would look calm, but she saw no need to point that out.

"I guess I have a different way of showing it."

"So, aren't you going to study?"

"I don't think this is the kind of test you can study for. But you go ahead. I think I'll take a little walk."

She strolled out into the hall and headed for Matt's down on the first floor. The hall was almost like an expensive hotel corridor, well lit, carpeted, and clean—no graffiti, no cigarette burns, no litter. She wondered at the size of the maintenance crew it took to keep things in this shape.

Tim and Matt had somehow finagled a room together. Quinn begrudgingly admitted to herself that she had warmed to Tim over dinner. She'd actually had fun laughing at his unsuccessful attempts to conjure up some white wine to go with the chicken francaise. She found him stretched out on the couch, reading a Cerebus comic—and still wearing his shades. Matt sat with his feet up on the table, listening to his Walkman. He looked up and waved.

Tim said, "Ah, the Mighty Quinn. Welcome!" He plucked up a fold of a new sweatshirt he was wearing emblazoned with The Ingraham. "How do I look?"

"'Like a patient etherized upon a table.'"

"Ah! A T.S. Eliot fan."

"But what poem?"

"'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'—first stanza." He lifted his sunglasses and looked at her cross-eyed. "You saw the comic book and thought you'd slip one by me, huh?"

"Not if it's a Cerebus, but isn't it hard to read with those things?"

"Very. Especially at night."

"Then why wear them?"

Matt lowered the headphones to the back of his neck and answered for his roommate. "Because as Andre Agassi says, 'Image... is everything.'"

Quinn had her own idea about that: Image had nothing to do with it; Tim Brown was hiding behind those lenses.

"How'd you two manage to get assigned to the same room?" she asked, dropping into a chair.

Tim said, "I traded with the guy who was originally here."

"You sure there's isn't a rule against that?" Quinn said.

"I didn't see one," Matt said, "but I'll bet there's one somewhere."

Tim put down his Cerebus and sat up. "Hell of a lot of rules, don't you think?"

"Their ball, their gloves, and their playing field," Matt said. "So they call the shots."

"Yeah," Tim said, "but what's this deal with you've got to sleep over in the dorm the night before the test? Where's that come from? If you don't like institutional food, or you'd rather stay in the Holiday Inn, why should they care?"

Quinn had been thinking about that. "Maybe they want us all to start off tomorrow morning on equal footing. You know, same dinner, same amount of sleep on the same kind of mattress, same breakfast, that sort of thing. Another level of standardization for the test."

Matt nodded. "Maybe. Their booklet does say they've learned over the years that they get the best results from their applicants under these conditions."

"Well, I don't know about you guys," Tim said, "but this kind of thing makes me feel like some sort of a lab rat."

"Maybe the whole point," Quin said, "is seeing if you're willing to do things their way."

"Obviously this place isn't for the wild and free spirits of the world," Matt said.

"But the price is right," Quinn said. The price is very right.

Tim shrugged. "No arguing that."

"What's not to like?" Quinn said. "The place is like a resort. The dorm is like a Hyatt, the caf is like a fine restaurant, you've got a physical fitness center with a lap pool, a great game room, and a top-notch faculty—"

"Even a pub," Tim said.

"Makes you wonder, though, doesn't it?" Matt said. "I mean, what are they getting out of it?"

"Simple," Quinn said. "The cream of the crop."

"Yeah... maybe."

"TANSTAAFL," Tim said, and pointed to Quinn with raised eyebrows.

She guessed it was her turn to identify a reference.

"Easy," she said. "It means There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. From The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein."

"Hey, very good," Tim said, nodding and mock applauding. "The lady knows SF too."

Quinn was surprised to find herself enjoying in his approval. She shook it off and said, "Who wouldn't want to go to medical school here?"

"Nobody," Matt said, "until you realize that you must spend all four years right within these wall."

Quinn felt a flash of resentment. Easy to say when money was no object. But she knew Matt didn't deserve that. He was a sweet guy despite the silver spoon he'd teethed on.

"My point exactly," Tim was saying. "What's the big deal? Why must you spend all four years in their dorm?"

Quinn shrugged. "I don't know. But they're very serious about it. I understand they make you sign a contract to live on campus all four years. You don't sign it, you don't register."

"And if you quit, you pay," Tim said.

Quinn was startled. She hadn't heard about that. "Pay? Pay what?"

"All your back tuition, room, board, book and lab fees."

"But that could be—"

"Lots ," Tim said. "Upwards of thirty thou a year."

"But if you get sick or hurt—"

"No. Only if you transfer to another medical school. If you get sick or hurt or change careers, it's goodbye and good luck. But if you want to graduate from another med school, watch out."

Quinn figured Tim must have read every line of fine print in the booklet.

"What if you want to get married?"

"You wait," Tim said.

"Or you marry a fellow Ingrahamite," Matt laughed. "But seriously, speaking as the son of a high-priced lawyer, let me assure you: contracts can be broken."

"Not this one," Tim said. "Not yet, anyway. Some parents took The Ingraham to court a few years ago. Their kid wanted to transfer to Cornell after two years here. They spent years battling it, and lost. They had to pay."

"Well, they won't have to worry about me," Quinn said. "If I get in, I'm staying." And she meant it with all her heart.

But Tim's remark about no free lunch nagged at her.

Matt was staring at Tim. "Where'd you learn so much about The Ingraham contract."

"Time had an article on it awhile back." Tim lifted his sunglasses and rubbed his right eye with his index finger. "Let's see... it was the October 15th issue, page 12, lower right-hand corner."

Quinn stared in amazement, then glanced at Matt for his reaction. He was grinning at her.

"He's kidding, isn't he?" she said to Matt.

"Didn't I tell you?"

Tim sat up. "Tell her? Tell her what?"

"About your weird memory."

Tim placed a hand over his heart and let out an exaggerated sigh. "You had me worried there. For one very bad moment I thought you'd told her about my... other weirdness."

"Oh, God, I'd never do that!" Matt said.

Quinn knew when she was being put on. She stared at Matt with feigned shock.

"Sure you did. You said he's got a shoe fetish and his philosophy of life is somewhere to the left of 'Whoopee!'"

Matt laughed but Tim was on his feet, wagging his index finger at her.

"I know that line! I know it! It's from... A Thousand Clowns. Murray Burns discussing his sister. Right?"

"Incredible," Quinn said. Matt hadn't exaggerated. Tim Brown's memory was phenomenal.

"But how do you know that line?" Tim said.

"For a long time it was my favorite movie."

"Yeah, well, Jason Robards was great, but—"

"It just was."

Quinn didn't want to get into how as a teenager she'd fantasized about taking the place of Murray Burns' nephew—she'd have been Murray's niece—and being raised by such a lovable non-conformist. Her parents were such staid, stick-in-the-mud, normal people. For years she'd longed for a little kookiness in her home.

She glanced at her watch. It was 10:50. "I'd better be getting back."

"Right," Tim said. "I've heard you turn into a pumpkin if you're late."

"Really? Was that in the Time article too?"

"A curfew!" Matt said, sitting up on his bed. "Can you believe it? I haven't been here a full day yet and already this place is getting on my nerves. And have you seen all the video cameras around the campus?"

Tim pressed a finger to his lips. "Careful, my friend. The walls may have ears."

 

 

MONITORING

 

"You bet they have ears, wise ass," Louis Verran muttered as he switched to another set of pick-ups.

"Mattress sensors positive all over the place, boss," Kurt said from his console.

"All right," Verran said. "It's almost eleven. Nighty-night time. Let's get some slow waves going."

He flipped the power switch and gave the rheostat a clockwise turn on the slow-wave inducer. Getting them to sleep before midnight was always the trickiest part of entrance exam week. Most of these kids were uptight about the test tomorrow and wired on their own adrenalin. That was why all the coffee in the caf had been decaf—even the pots marked regular. Without a little help, too many would spend the night chewing their fingernails and tossing and turning on the unfamiliar mattresses. Big no-no. They had to sleep. All of them. For at least five full hours.

So each suite was hard-wired with—among other things—slow-wave/spindle inducers. A huge expense, considering that they were used only one week out of fifty-two. The inducer created an electromagnetic field in the rooms that connected with human brain waves, inducing sleep spindles on the EEG, and making the pattern most comfortable in the slow-wave form—the sleep pattern. Worked great on the kids if they were lying in bed; thirty to sixty seconds and they were in dreamland. Took a little longer if they were sitting up, but eventually they'd give in to this sudden, overwhelming urge to lie down... just for a few minutes... just to rest their eyes.

"Good evening, gentlemen," said a voice behind Verran. "It's lights-out time for the students, I believe."

Verran suppressed a growl of annoyance as he turned to face Dr. Alston. The ghoul was always meddling. Seemed to think being Director gave him the right to stick his nose into everyone's business. Didn't know the first thing about running security but he always had two cents' worth of nothing to contribute.

"Dr. Alston," Verran said, forcing a smile. "Back again for another evening of fun and games, I see."

"Hardly, Louis," Alston said grimly as he sniffed the air. His gaze came to rest on Verran's smoldering cigar.

"Louis... is that another cigar?"

Louis held it up before him, appearing to scrutinize it. "Good lord, Doc, I believe you're right!"

Elliot leaned on his console and coughed to hide a laugh.

"Really, Louis, how many times must I remind you of the rules against smoking on this campus?"

"And how many times must I remind you , Doc, that this is the one place on campus where that rule doesn't apply?"

And how many times, you tightass, are we going to butt heads on this? Verran thought.

"We'll settle this some other time," Dr. Alston said. "Right now, how are we doing?"

Verran clamped the cigar between his teeth and leaned left so he could see Kurt behind Alston.

"What's the status on the Z Patrol?"

"Getting there," Kurt said. "Twenty percent down already."

Verran glanced at the timer. The slow-wave inducers had been running just shy of fifteen minutes.

"Right on schedule."

Dr. Alston pulled up a chair and sat down on the far side of the control room, fanning the air with a manila folder every time some of Verran's cigar smoke drifted his way.

Half an hour later Kurt slapped his palm on the top of his console.

"There goes the last of them. They're all down."

Verran nodded his approval. Amazing how well those inducers worked. No one could hold out against them for long—unless they were on anticonvulsant medication. And The Ingraham's pre-invitation screening process culled out any such kids long before the first invitation was sent.

"Excellent!" Dr. Alston said, rising and moving to the center of the control room. "Let the music begin!"

"Gimme a break," Verran muttered as he nodded to Elliot.

Elliot began to work the switches on his own console, and soon "the music," as Dr. Alston called it, began to filter through the occupied dorm rooms.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

"How can you guys eat?" Quinn said.

Tim looked up from his blueberry pancakes. They were, quite literally, melting in his mouth.

"Are you kidding? These things are fabulous. I'm going back for seconds."

Matt was already back on line, rejoining the bustle around the buffet area. The morning sun shone brightly through the tall windows, but Tim's shades filtered the glare. All around them The Ingraham hopefuls clustered at scattered tables, creating pockets of nervous chatter or pools of silence. Tim watched Quinn grimace as she picked at her shredded wheat.

He said, "Why don't you try something a little more substantial? The scrambled eggs look good."

She pressed a hand over her stomach. "Please. They're not even real eggs."

"Sure they are. They're egg whites—real eggs with the yolks removed. Looks like anybody who goes here will be on low cholesterol, like it or not."

"I'm all for that," Quinn said.

Tim swallowed another bite. "No smoking, low cholesterol food... looks like they wasnt us to live forever."

"Makes sense, doesn't it? They're investing a lot in their students."

Tim studied Quinn out of the corner of his eye. She looked good this morning, dressed in a Navy blue sweater that deepened the tint of her eyes, and white slacks that hugged the curves of her buttocks. Tim decided he liked those buttocks. Her short, strawberry-blond hair looked just right; she wore a hint of eye make up, just enough to draw attention to them. She looked well put together, but then watching her fidgety hands he could see the stress she was putting on herself. This test was too important to her. Tim had an urge to put his arm around her shoulder, hug her close, and tell her don't worry. But he didn't know her well enough for that. Yet.

"Didn't you sleep well?" he said.

"Like the dead. Which is weird, because I'm usually up and down all night before a big test. But last night I hit the pillow and that was it till morning. Maybe they put something in the food."

"Maybe," Tim said. He'd slept like the proverbial log himself, but he'd expected to. He'd had next to no sleep the night before.

"So we're all well rested," he said. "And if you're well fed you'll do better on the test."

She shook her head. "My stomach's in a square knot. I—" She broke off and stared toward the far end of the caf. "Say... isn't he somebody?"

"Most people are," Tim said, looking around for who she meant.

"No, I mean somebody famous."

He spotted him. Tall, lean, striding toward the curved stairway with Dr. Alston. Tim lifted his dark glasses for a better look. Strong features, dark hair graying at the temples, distinguished looking in a tailored gray suit.

Matt returned then, carrying a plate heaped with scrambled eggs and hash browns. He cocked his head toward the newcomer.

"Isn't he—?"

At that instant the name clicked. "Senator Jefferson Stephen Whitney," Tim said. "Or I guess I should say, former U.S. Senator Whitney."

"And I'll bet he was in that private helicopter that just landed," Quinn said.

Tim nodded. They'd all stood at the windows watching it whir down at the heliport behind the medical center.

The image of an article from The Wall Street Journal flashed before Tim's eyes with a photo. He'd come across it while researching an economics paper on the inflationary recession of the 1970's. He saw the header now:

 

Sen. Whitney cancels campaign.

Accepts new foundation post.

 

"He was a hot-shot, young-turk senator in the seventies," Tim said. "Made lots of waves in trying to revamp the FDA. Wasn't popular nationally but people in Wisconsin loved him. Looked like he was going to be right up there for a long time, but when it came time for re-election, he opted out and took a position with the Kleederman Foundation. He's been on its Board ever since."

"That explains why he's here," Quinn said.

"Right. The Kleederman Foundation is paying for this breakfast we're eating—"

"That two of us are eating," Matt said pointedly as he eyed Quinn's barely-touched shredded wheat.

"—and all the rest of The Ingraham's bills."

Dr. Alston and the former senator had mounted the stairway to the landing at the halfway mark and stopped to face the cafeteria. Tim noticed that a microphone and stand had been rigged on the landing.

"Good morning, everyone," Dr. Alston said. "I trust you all slept well and are enjoying the breakfast that The Ingraham's staff has prepared for you."

Polite scattered applause.

"We are privileged this morning to have a surprise visit from former United States Senator Jefferson Whitney, a director of the Kleederman Foundation, the magnanimous organization responsible for the founding and funding of The Ingraham College of Medicine. Senator?"

Tim noted that this round of applause was less scattered and more vigorous. Even he joined in. After all, this guy represented the deep pockets that supported this place.

"Good morning," Whitney said, flashing an easy-going smile that gleamed even through Tim's shades. "I know you're all on tenter hooks and anxious to get to the test, and I know I won't have your rapt and undivided attention, so I'll be brief." Whitney paused, then: "You see today as an all-important day for your future."

Tim glanced at Quinn and saw her blond head nod once, almost imperceptibly.

"But you should not lose sight of the fact that this is an important day for The Ingraham as well. You are the cream of the crop. Your college careers are testimonies to your desire to strive for and your ability to achieve excellence. You are the people we want as Ingraham students, as Ingraham graduates. This is not a situation of you, the individual, against us, the institution. We're not trying to keep any of you out. We want you here. We'd love to take you all. We wish we could afford to take you all. Unfortunately, the Kleederman Foundation's funds are finite.

"But for those of you who are accepted, what a world will be opened to you! Not only will you receive the gift of the finest medical education in the world, but you will have a chance to go out and shape the future of American medicine, to make it the model and envy of every country on Earth.

"So I wish you all well in today's examination. And please remember that no matter what happens in the coming months, each and every one of you is already a winner. I know I speak for The Ingraham College of Medicine and the Kleederman Foundation when I say that we are proud of all of you."

More applause. Tim clapped mechanically.

"Amazing," he said. "Platitudes trip off his tongue as if they'd sprung into his mind de novo."

Quinn looked at him sharply. "I think it was very nice of him to take the time and come speak to us. I mean we're just applicants. None of us has even been accepted yet. Give him a break, will you?"

Tim winced. He was not scoring points with Quinn.

Why was he attracted to this twitchy, type-A ingenue anyway? She was sweet-looking, bright, and she had a nice butt. So what? The same could be said of plenty of other girls he knew. Obviously she disapproved of him and his style. So what else was new? Plenty of people disapproved of him. He liked it when uptight people disapproved of him. He reveled in it. So why did her little put down bother him?

And why the hell was he racking his brain now for a way to mollify her?

Matt, ever the peacemaker, said, "Tim doesn't trust politicians."

"Senator Whitney isn't a politician. He heads a foundation."

"The fact that everybody still calls him Senator Whitney says something," Tim said. "I hear he spends most of his time lobbying his old cronies at the Senate. Once a politician, always a politician." Tim raised his orange juice glass in Whitney's direction. "But if he's going to foot the bill for med school for me, he's a prince."

Another cool look from Quinn. This was going nowhere. He took his empty plate and stood up.

"Seconds anyone?"

 

 

 

Tim chewed the eraser on the back end of his #2 pencil as he considered question number 200.

The test was a bitch.

A lot like the MCAT only worse. The biology questions were off the wall. The chemistry questions were even tougher. This baby was out to separate the men from the boys, not to mention the women from the girls.

Tim glanced around. About twenty-five of the hopefuls had been seated in this classroom, the rest were scattered through the class building. Nothing special here. Green chalk board across the front of the room, gray tile floor, overhead fluorescents, a pair of TV monitors suspended from the ceiling, and one-piece desks. Only the life-size skeleton hanging in the rear corner offered any clue that the room was on a medical school campus. In the seat to his left, Quinn's brow was furrowed in concentration as her foot beat a soft, nervous tattoo on the floor. To his right, Matt was hunched over his exam booklet, scribbling figures on his scratch sheets. All around Tim, nervous people trying to score for their future.

He could almost hear them sweat.

Not that Tim was taking this lightly himself. His folks could manage to send him to med school, but it wouldn't be pocket change like for Matt's family—not even close. They'd have to make some sacrifices, maybe get a home equity loan, but they'd find a way to come up with it. And gladly. Still, it would make things a hell of a lot easier for them if Tim got accepted here.

But taking pressure off his family was only part of why he was sweating this exam. A small part. The big part was being free. Making it into The Ingraham would be a sort of declaration of independence. No more checks for dad to write for tuition, room, and board. For the first time Tim would be one hundred percent self-sufficient. He'd feel like a man. That would be great.

But question 200 was strange.

It asked for the first corollary of the Kleederman equation. No problem there. Tim knew the answer. Trouble was, he couldn't figure out how he knew it.

Usually he could simply picture the book, page, and paragraph where he'd read about any given subject. It just came to him, as naturally and easily as breathing. He remembered how as a kid he used to wow the grown-ups at family gatherings. Someone would hand him a driver license, he'd glance at it, hand it back, then reel off every letter and number on it. Next he'd do a page from a magazine, and then go to his grand finale: a page from the phone book. They thought he was a genius, but Tim came to understand that his ability had nothing to do with intelligence—it was simply the way his brain worked.

But what about now? Johann Kleederman—Tim could see before him a page from U.S. News & World Report , an article on Kleederman and his foundation. Born in Switzerland in 1935, where he and his wealthy parents weathered World War Two. Johann took over the reins of the family pharmaceutical company after his father's death in 1960, and immediately began a rapid extension into the U.S. market. He set up his Foundation in 1968, and became a pioneer of managed health care during the seventies. He'd spent the latter half of the eighties and early nineties buying up nursing homes and turning financially-troubled hospitals into medical centers, a move considered by many to be eccentric and financially risky. Still, the medical centers and nursing homes controlled by Kleederman Medical Industies, a multinational conglomerate that included the innovative and extraordinarily profitable Kleederman Pharmaceuticals, were considered the best managed, most cost-effective healthcare facilities in the world. Tim even could see an old photo of the reclusive, balding, mutton-chop-sideburned Kleederman in the upper left corner of the page.

But the Kleederman equation? Nothing in the article about that. No picture came. Just the answer.

Tim gave a mental shrug and blackened the "B" box next to 200 on his answer sheet. Who cared? When the sheet went through the grading computer, the machine wasn't going to ask how anyone got the answer. It was only going to note if the response was correct or incorrect.

And correct was definitely better.

The next two questions also referred to the Kleederman equation. These answers too popped unbidden into his mind. So be it. He marked them down and went on.

The questions changed after that. Science segued into general knowledge. Tim had seen some of this on the MCAT, but there was much more of it here—from who won last year's World Series to the name of the Impressionist who painted "Starry Night" to the first name of the 18th-century British cabinet maker for whom the Chippendale style was named.

Tim smiled to himself. He knew what The Ingraham was up to: trying to weed out the science nerds, the oddballs who spent their entire lives hunching over microscopes or squinting at computer monitors without ever looking out the window to see what was going on in the world. They might be brilliant, they might be able to breeze through the toughest p-chem questions, but they fit the definition of culturally deprived. They'd make great researchers, but a medical degree would be wasted on them. They could be doctors but never physicians. And the Ingraham wanted to graduate physicians.

After the general knowledge section the questions got weird.

They baffled Tim. Strange questions involving values and decision-making: about being a general in a battle and deciding who was expendable, about being a surgeon in a M.A.S.H. unit surrounded by wounded soldiers—instead of goofy jokers like the TV show—and having to decide who would be treated now and who would have to wait until later.

Triage.

There didn't seem to be any one correct answer to these.

Tim felt paralyzed. He'd spent years matching the right answer to the right question. But now there was no right answer.

Maybe that was the point. Maybe The Ingraham wasn't looking so much for answers to the questions as it was looking for answers about the person taking the test.

The realization galvanized Tim. This was great. All he had to go was dive into these and cut loose. But not too loose. He had to consider the kind of answer these folks were looking for.

 

 

 

Finished.

Tim glanced at his watch. Ten minutes to spare. Everything done. All his four hundred multiple choices had an A, B, C, D, or E box blackened to the right of it. No sense in going back and rechecking. Too many. And besides, he was drained. He couldn't bear to read and answer one more goddamn question about anything.

He glanced over at Quinn. She was still working down at the bottom of the last row. She'd finish in time. He was turning away to check on Matt when he noticed two unanswered questions at the top of one of her columns. He checked his exam booklet. Those were two of the Kleederman questions.

It hit him that maybe Quinn wasn't familiar with the equations. Maybe she'd drawn a blank on Johann Kleederman. Why else would she leave them unanswered?

And Christ, the Kleederman Foundation was the pocketbook for The Ingraham. They might dump on anyone missing those.

Tim looked around for the proctor. She was standing by her desk now, arranging her papers, preparing to collect the test pamphlets. Tim slipped his answer sheet inside his exam book, replaced his shades over his eyes, and waited. When her back was turned he rose and, in one continuous movement, leaned over Quinn's shoulder, blackened the B and C boxes next to questions 201 and 202, then straightened and strode down the aisle.

My good deed for the day.

 

 

 

Quinn stared down at the two marks Tim had made on her answer sheet. He'd blackened in choices on two of the three questions that had completely stymied her. What on God's earth was the Kleederman equation? She'd never heard of it.

Obviously Tim had. Probably could tell her the page and paragraph where he'd read about it. God, she wished she had a memory like that. Wouldn't that be great? Like having an optical CD-ROM reader in your head.

She stared at those little blackened boxes. They weren't her answers. She felt queasy about handing them in.

Instinctively, Quinn reversed her pencil and moved to erase them. She had always done her own work, always stood on her own two feet. She wasn't going to change that now.

Almost of its own accord, her pencil froze, the eraser poised half an inch above the paper.

Her whole future was at stake here. This was real life. The nitty-gritty. Doing "good enough" wouldn't cut it; there were just so many places the next class. Fifty, to be exact. She had to score in the top fifty.

The Kleederman questions could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection.

And she didn't have a clue as to how to answer them.

But still... they weren't her answers.

As she lowered the eraser to the paper, the proctor's voice cut through the silence.

"Time's up. Pencils down. Any more marks and your test will be disqualified."

 

 

 

Tim stood with Matt around the central pond and waited for Quinn to come out of the class building. A chill wind had come up, scraping dead leaves along the concrete walks. He pulled his jacket closer around him. Winter was knocking.

Finally she showed up, walking slow. He wondered at her grim expression.

"How'd you do?" Matt asked.

Quinn shrugged. "You ever hear of the Kleederman equation?"

"Sure," Tim said. "It's—"

"I know you did." The look she tossed him was anything but friendly. "I want to know about Matt."

That look unsettled Tim. He'd thought he'd be her knight in shining armor. What was eating her?

Matt scratched his head. "It has to do with distribution of medical services among an expanding population."

"You've heard of it too? You've both heard of it?" She shook her head in dismay. "Why haven't I? Three questions and I couldn't even guess at an answer."

"Cheer up," Tim said. "You got two of them right, anyway. At least I hope they were right."

Her head snapped up. Her expression was fierce. Her eyes flashed as she looked into his.

"No. You got two of them right. Not me. I didn't have a clue. I don't hand in other people's work, Tim."

He groaned. "Oh, no. You didn't erase them, did you?"

There was pain in her eyes now. "No. I didn't. And I'm not too proud of myself for that."

She turned and walked off toward the dorm. Tim started after her but stopped after two steps. He wanted to be with her but what was the use? She'd put up a wall.

"You marked a couple of answers on her sheet?" Matt said.

"Yeah. They were blank. Thought I was doing her a favor." He didn't want to show it—didn't even want to admit it—but he was hurt , damn it "Boy, I just can't win with her."

"With 999 other people you'd be a hero. But Quinn's got her own set of rules. You tested on her own standards and she feels she failed."

Tim was jolted. "Jesus..."

"Didn't I tell you she's one of a kind?"

"You got that right. Kind of old-fashioned, though, don't you think?"

"Yeah," Matt said softly. "She's an old-fashioned girl."

"I didn't think there were any of those left."

To his dismay Tim realized he was becoming enthralled with Quinn Cleary.

 

 

SPRING BREAK

 

Adrix (adriazepam), the new non-habituating benzodiazepine with strong anti-depressant properties from Kleederman Pharmaceuticals, has quickly become the most widely prescribed tranquilizer in the world.

Medical World News

 

 

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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